Category Archives: Advent and Christmas

2 February: in the house of Mary.

Image from FMSL

On the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, or Candlemas, some thoughts about Mary, the obedient, subversive woman who said ‘yes’ to great personal sorrow, as Simeon warned her on this day, because that was part of her vocation as mother of God. This reflection by Father Gerry McFlynn is reblogged from the London Irish Chaplaincy website.

It took a bit of adjusting, coming in from the bright sunlight to the small, dark, one-roomed house.  It was the House of Mary in the ruins of Ephesus, in Turkey, where Mary is supposed to have lived out the last years of her life.  The only light was provided by an array of candles, some in front of a darkened icon of the Virgin holding her Son.  And I remember that there was only one other person there, an old Muslim woman who, unlike me, was praying.

Read on. Recommended by Christina Chase, with whom I shared the article as soon as I read it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections

9 January: Follow the Verger

Here’s another story by Eddie Gilmore from the Irish chaplaincy blog. I recall all too well the tension felt when acting as MC, master of ceremonies, at the old Latin High Mass. The priest, deacon and subdeacon – in daily life all three priests, but concelebration had not been heard of back then – would sit during the singing of the Gloria and Creed, wearing their birettas, rather odd black hats, which had to be removed at certain points as a sign of respect. And at a signal from the MC, who stood beside them, his – yes, his – hands together in prayer. Get it wrong – well, it depended on who was celebrant what might be said afterwards in the sacristy. So I appreciated Eddie’s reflection that follows!

I was spending the weekend in York with Ann and Andy, old friends from Uni. Thanks to Andy being a verger at the Minster I got to sit with Ann in a prominent position for the service, and afterwards got invited to join the vergers and their partners for a drink in one of York’s many olde worlde pubs. They were a great bunch and it was a fascinating insight into what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in a major cathedral. A verger, by the way, is the person in the Anglican tradition who leads the celebrants to their position before and during a service. They hold aloft a virge which is a kind of long rod, and they walk very slowly and solemnly, which means that the procession behind them also walks very slowly and solemnly. The tradition, I believe, is from the middle ages when cathedrals would be filled with people milling around and the verger would almost literally have to barge their way through the throngs to get the celebrants to the altar. Nowadays it’s purely ceremonial and it’s all done with almost military style precision. The vergers even have ear pieces so they can communicate with each other regarding exactly when to set off with the procession and when they need to ‘land’ in a particular place.

There were lots of good stories from the vergers about occasions when things hadn’t quite gone according to plan. Andy told of how a verger once led the procession the wrong way at the beginning of a big important service. The other vergers were looking on helplessly as their colleague (perhaps overawed by the occasion) led the motley crew of choristers, priests and bishops first one way then another until everyone finally arriving at the altar. I told in a recent blog of the day a few months back when Evensong began again in Canterbury Cathedral following the lockdown restrictions. It was in the huge nave instead of the choir and the verger hesitated on the way in, and the Dean and canons behind her came to a temporary halt. I knew straight away what had happened and sent a message to Ann later on: “Tell Andy that the verger didn’t know where to go!”

I’m sometimes not that keen on big solemn church services, where everything is perfectly choreographed but it’s almost too perfect to the extent that I feel like I can’t really be myself. One of the riches of my years at L’Arche was being alongside people who really knew how to be themselves (i.e. people with a learning disability), even in church settings and even if it may have invoked some feelings of discomfort in those around them. Back in the early 90s I used sometimes to go with one of the learning-disabled women in my house to her local church and sometimes during the service my friend, who was very tactile, would get up and walk towards the vicar and give him a big hug. And that memory is especially poignant now in this time when we cannot share physical touch with one another. Another woman who I accompanied occasionally to that same church would let out a big scream just as the gospel reading was coming to an end (i.e. just before the homily). I would have to take her into the hall for a cup of tea and she was happy to return for the remainder of the service. It meant I also got an early cup of tea and didn’t have to sit through a long sermon, so everyone was a winner!

When things don’t go exactly according to plan it makes it all a bit more human somehow. And who could have planned how and where, according the Christian tradition, God chose to be revealed in the world: as a tiny baby born to unmarried parents in a smelly stable in a backwater town on the fringes of the Roman empire. The kingdom of God is indeed an upside-down kingdom.

And so if occasionally the verger leads the celebrants the wrong way, then in my view we’re all the richer and all the more human for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, L'Arche, Mission, PLaces

7 January: Quest

Wide is the darkness, dark is the night,
Only a star
Shining so silverly, flingeth its light
Ever so far;
Yet by its lure are led
Men who have visioned
God’s door unlatcheted
And held ajar.

‘Restless our souls must be,’ Augustine said,
Seeking for Thee,
‘Lord, till they rest in Thee,’ uncomforted,
Athirst for Thee;
For Thou hast made us so,
And souls must questing go,
Thralled by the golden flow,
Entrancedly.

Lord, let not silver spell of that blest star
Be dimmed for me.
Constant my questing keep, faring so far,
Seeking for Thee;
Nor let pride find a flaw,
Seeing what wise men saw,
Babe in poor stable straw –
Epiphany.

Father Andrew SDC

There are many versions of Burne-Jones’s Adoration of the Magi; this one used to draw me like a magnet as a child growing up in Birmingham. The figures are more than life-size! Just like the message of the Gospel, the star is not obvious to everyone: the custodian angel directs its light so that we are drawn in to see what wise men saw; once seen, we must follow, questing, keeping the star in view, enthralled.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

6 January: So Quiet the Night

Sheila Billingsley understands that the sweetness we need at Christmas is more than soft-centred chocolates or saccharine carols in the Supermarket. Those bring very little joy. But the joy of Christmas is paradoxical …

When Christmas seems like Calvary
And stars concealed by cloud, 
With stable dark
And manger cold, we seek our childhood's needs
Of sweetness and angels' song.

So quiet the night ...

As we,

Rest in the care,
The wondrous care, of a new-born scrap - to be ...
Our King,
     Our Hope,
          Our Strength,
               Our Love.
to be our Joy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry, winter

6 January: Going viral LIX, Epiphany Carol Service.

You might like to attend St Mildred’s Carol Service for Epiphany, especially if you are unable to be present in person under the current Covid arrangements where you are. Follow the link.

Many thanks to Revd Jo and her team: Oh that we were there!
Epiphany carol service from St Mildred’s
.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, corona virus, L'Arche, Mission, PLaces, winter

5 January: Star of Wonder

Star from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury.

Christopher M Graney of Sacred Space Astronomy has shared his reflections on the Star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. An enlightening extra post for us today, bearing in mind tomorrow’s feast of the Epiphany.

I can still say Happy Christmas till then, so Happy Christmas and a blessed new year to all.

Will.

Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Interruptions, PLaces, poetry

5 January: Sweet singing in the choir

Today’s post is an extract from a longer article from the Hermit of Saint Bruno. Worth reading in full, I’m sure much in there will resonate with you, especially if we cannot sing together this Christmastide!

Carthusian monks spend a lot of time singing in choir and cell. They gather to sing the Mass in the morning, then to sing the Office of Vespers at the end of the day, and at night for the long Office of Readings and Lauds. It is the common activity that takes the most time in the life of the monks.

Not only is Gregorian chant inseparable from the liturgy – it is not an ornament – but it is considered an essential spiritual instrument. The Statutes specify it thus:

“Let us observe this manner of chanting, singing in the sight of the most Holy Trinity and the holy angels, penetrated with fear of God and aflame with a deep desire. May the songs we sing raise our minds to the contemplation of eternal realities, and our voices blend into one cry of jubilation before God our Creator.” (Statutes book VI, §52:25)

The Statutes state precisely that singing can elevate the spirit to contemplation of God, that is, to the highest one can expect here below.

To round off this reflection, may I send you back three years to this video from the Poor Clares of Lilongwe, singing and dancing their prayers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

4 January: The man with a father’s heart

Pope Francis has declared this to be the Year of Saint Joseph, the Man with the Father’s Heart. Here is the thinking behind that, from his letter, Patris Corde – with a Father’s Heart.

Now, one hundred and fifty years after his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX (8 December 1870), I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. For, as Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34).

My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”.[6] 

Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, corona virus, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace

3 January: And the Angels Sang.

Here is another posting by Eddie Gilmore of London’s Irish Chaplaincy. I’ve just shared a paragraph from the middle, but the whole article, and the links he provides, are worth your perusal. Eddie writes as a musician, so his thoughts on angels and other intelligent beings’ singing are most interesting.

We are told that angels sang at the birth of Christ. Who were those celestial beings that sang at an event that was never going to be on the front page of the Bethlehem Gazette? Whoever they were, I’ll bet they laid down a good tune, with some sublime harmonies and with no one angel hogging the limelight. And what about their unusual audience that starry night? Shepherds, who were outcasts in their community because staying out in the fields at all hours meant that they were unable to observe the normal rituals of the Jewish faith, and who might as well have been a bit tipsy, since they were known to have a little toddy to keep themselves warm. And then those three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who arrived with gifts that the mother of a newly-born wouldn’t exactly find that practical!

I have to say, though, I thought the wise men’s gifts had their uses. Gold would have got the Family to Egypt and bought new tools for Joseph. Frankincense might have sweetened the air of the stable, myrrh helped look after Baby Jesus’ skin, especially in the nappy area. At least, so I used to tell the children!

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, corona virus, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Mission, winter

2 January: MEDITATION

Rorate Cœli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum.
Aperiatur Terra, et germinet Salvatorem.
*

No sudden thing of glory and fear
   Was the Lord’s coming; but the dear
Slow Nature’s days followed each other
To form the Saviour from his Mother
—One of the children of the year.

The earth, the rain, received the trust,
—The sun and dews, to frame the Just.
   He drew his daily life from these,
   According to his own decrees
Who makes man from the fertile dust.

Sweet summer and the winter wild,
These brought him forth, the Undefiled.
   The happy Springs renewed again
   His daily bread, the growing grain,
The food and raiment of the Child.

From “Poems” by Alice Meynell.

*Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour: Isaiah 45.8

Vechoochira School

Alice Meynell was a mother herself. I’m not sure what she meant by saying he was one of the children of the year, but it brings to mind school uniforms and new friendships between children and perhaps their parents and grandparents too. No longer shunned as the child conceived before marriage, since he is that nice John’s cousin or my Simon’s best friend. Get rid of prejudice and we can begin to see Jesus in each one of the people we find ourselves sharing time and space with.

Happy New Year!

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, poetry